Airlines and Nut Allergies – What to Know about Peanuts on Planes

Two recent news stories about children suffering severe allergic reactions to nuts on planes has raised some questions. The main one is, what are airline policies on nut consumption? It varies but there are no guarantees.

Some Ban Nuts but No Guarantees

Some U.S. airlines quit serving packets of peanuts several years ago due to increased awareness about the potential danger for allergy sufferers, but no airline that we’re aware of bans passengers from bringing their own nuts on planes. In short, airlines cannot guarantee a nut-free environment.

Some examples of airline nut policies.

  • American: Although they do not serve peanuts, they do “serve other nut products.”
  • Southwest: The airline still serves free peanuts but will make every attempt to avoid this if given advance notice (more on that below). Still, the airline is “unable to guarantee a peanut-free or allergen-free flight.”
  • United: The airline does not serve pre-packaged peanuts but “does serve foods that may contain trace amounts of peanuts.”
  • Virgin America: The airline “cannot guarantee an environment free of any allergens, including peanuts, peanut dust, peanut oil, or peanut remnants.”

What Allergy Sufferers Can Do

Southwest asks its customers to let them know about nut allergies in advance by phone or online – and again at the airport gate – and “every attempt” will be made not to serve peanuts. Some suggestions no matter what airline you fly.

  • Contact the airline: Call the airline at least 24 hours before departure, explain your situation and ask what to expect; you may be able to request a nut-buffer zone.
  • Take the first flight in the morning: Many planes don’t get cleaned until the end of the day and while this will not guarantee a nut-free environment, an early flight will probably be an improvement over a late one.
  • Speak up and hope for the best: If you see a seatmate pull out a pack of nuts and fear for your health, politely speak up and explain the problem – but this doesn’t always work.


Published: August 21, 2014